Our understanding is that James Hird will not play any active match-day football role this season.

Our understanding is that James Hird will not play any active match-day football role this season. Photo: Penny Stephens

Essendon's strange decision to delay its call on James Hird's immediate future at the club smacks again of the kid-glove treatment afforded the exiled club legend.

The strong message coming from the Bombers is that Hird is the last person they want to be sitting anywhere near Mark Thompson as he coaches his team into September. Thompson's reference to a "gap year" after the team's narrow win on Sunday was ominous but even more telling was his focus on what is right for the players.

Thompson has been impressive publicly since his unfortunate cancer drug comments of early July and has rightly shifted the focus to where it should lay – his well-performing football side. And Hird's return can only be a distraction for the team, particularly if he sits in the coach's box in round 23 and beyond.

My understanding, after putting the question to senior Essendon staff, is that Hird will not play any active match-day football role this season. Thompson was given the right to make that call and the only reason it hasn't been declared yet is because the message has not been delivered to Hird.

Essendon is, of course, a moveable feast given the uncertainty of so many key positions at the club so the Hird strategy could change, but as of now the plan is to communicate to Hird himself his role for the remainder of the 2014 season in a three-man meeting involving Thompson, Hird and chairman Paul Little.

Essendon refused to clarify the view of football boss Neil Craig but we believe Craig has made his decision on Hird's role this season and communicated that to the board. 

There has been speculation Hird will work behind the scenes in recruiting, development or even a coterie role. Certainly key figures surrounding the club have made their views clear with former captains Tim Watson, Terry Daniher and Matthew Lloyd all stating it would be preferable for Hird to stay away from any active coaching role.

But surely Essendon must see that it is already a distraction. Clearly the AFL should have banned Hird for the entire season not to mention ban him from receiving club funds but that horse has bolted and the competition made its call under the pressure of legal threats and a September deadline.

So the Bombers, having found themselves in this position, should have acted earlier in making the public call. Even after Sunday's thrilling win and Jake Carlisle's bag the headlines in some areas surrounded Hird. 

It is so surprising that Little and his team – having held on to key sponsors and members and overseen a winning season – have made such bad decisions surrounding the delaying tactical legal fight and then with Hird. First in re-signing him and now in procrastinating publicly over the nature of his return.

The reason for Essendon's perceived inertia could be the highly sensitive nature of the banned coach and his volatile family and equally volatile and litigious camp. Perhaps Little, who is devoting some five hours a day to the Bombers, sees the need to sit down and express with Thompson his thoughts on a first-hand basis.

Mitigating the decision could also be the legal battle Essendon has chosen to wage with Hird against ASADA as the players face the real possibility of receiving infraction notices. That distraction has seen the board delay its appointment of a new chief executive by some four weeks but a recommendation will be put to the board within days and acting chief Xavier Campbell remains favourite for the position. Campbell is a good friend of Hird's. 

The plan had also been for Hird to deliver some form of  unqualified public apology to his members, fans and the wider football community upon return but that could also be placed on the backburner given the legal situation.

My view remains that Essendon cannot move forward with Hird as coach and certainly his two-year contract beyond 2014 can be nullified should he be found in any way culpable by ASADA. The majority of senior AFL coaches remain significantly perplexed at the prospect of welcoming Hird back into the coaching ranks.

More practically, Hird's decision to leave the country for his exiled season has made his return to the coach's box even less likely. Surely Thompson must be wondering at the decision by a senior coach who plans to return to the top job to travel to the other side of the world. whether or not someone else suggested it. Then again, when it comes to bad advice, Hird is in a category all his own.

While the Mark Thompson versus James Hird debate would seem to be a no-contest in favour of Thompson, that question is also mitigated by the fact of Thompson's unpredictable nature. Right now he is Essendon's saviour but who knows where his head will be come the end of the season?

The more pertinent question surrounds the future of Hird, who has still shown no sign of significant contrition and seems still wedded to a number of irrelevant conspiracy theories, along with the view that the fault for what happened under his watch and its fallout was more the AFL's than his.

Should that view remain, he must go and go soon. Thompson has been given the call on Hird where season 2014 is concerned, but the bigger question is who will tap him on the shoulder should he be removed before 2015?